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Health insurance at KP: the silent revolution in Pakistan

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Imagine your son had cancer and had to choose between paying for his treatment and selling your house. This is not a hypothetical situation. It is a reality for millions of Pakistanis, who must choose between treating a sudden severe illness and their limited resources. “An old man from our village, whose daughter needed a liver transplant to save her life, came to me for help a few years ago,” says Taimur Jhagra, Minister of Finance and Health in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. “He needed four million rupees and I still remember the look in his eyes.

Today, partly inspired by this story, every KP citizen has been automatically enrolled in universal health insurance, simply on the basis of a KP address on their NADRA card. Forty million people will receive free health care to the tune of Rs 1 million each year in more than 400 hospitals – public and private. In addition, the demand created by this health coverage will stimulate private sector investment in health in the KP and improve the quality of health care throughout the province, without the government having to foot the bill for construction and operation. new hospitals.

So here we have it, a small war-torn province in Pakistan implemented universal health insurance before many rich and developed countries could achieve the same status. Even in the most powerful country in the world, the United States of America, the government refuses to foot the bill for universal health insurance. The KP is the first province in the country to offer universal health coverage to its people, with Imran Khan saying Punjab and Balochistan will follow – which will automatically put pressure on Sindh to pick up its game. governance race to the top and that is a beautiful thing for Pakistan. A revolutionary rewrite of the unbalanced social contract between the Pakistani state and society.

Pakistani politics, like Pakistani activism, is often performative. Highways and subways are visible manifestations that beautifully conceal both acts of omission and commission, while serving as effective talking points ahead of elections. Health, on the other hand, is an invisible investment in human beings. “Was the decision to prioritize this financially painful for the province?” I asked Mr. Jhagra. “This represents about 3% of our budget,” he replied. “The painful part isn’t financial, but the idea that if we can do great things like this so quickly, why haven’t we done great things like this before as a country. “

The answer to this question has a lot to do with how the media covers governance in Pakistan and generates political capital and rewards. For example, hardly any prime-time television show or newspaper columnist has delved deeply into Pakistan’s revolutionary turn with universal health insurance. Instead, they’re stuck playing the same bad Bollywood movie, Pakistani politics, on repeat. The same characters, the same plots and the same tales of musical chairs. It is the moral equivalent of a war crime because it deprives the Pakistani people of the ability to make informed voting choices based on real governance.

I joked with Mr Jhagra that people in Karachi and Lahore would now migrate to KP for better health care, but this is the question our mainstream media should now ask the leaders of Punjab, Sind and Balochistan. If KP can do it, why can’t we? Why can’t our mainstream media nurture a culture of rewarding good performance so that political parties can realize that political capital can be earned by playing rather than just shooting at opposition or opposing to boys? There is a third way to foster democracy and that is to create a culture of rewarding performance at the polls. It’s slow, it’s not sexy, but it’s a non-violent way to change our system for the better.

Just as the moon Ramazan appears in KP one day before the rest of the country, the tabdeeli promised by Naya Pakistan first appears visible in KP. It’s not just universal health insurance, the successful tsunami of one billion trees is another example. Why are the mainstream media dozing through these real revolutions?

Posted in The Express Tribune on February 21, 2021.

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